It has now been over 3 years since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, a period of time which has seen so many of us experience loss and grief. It’s no wonder employers might be minded to think about how they would most appropriately allow staff to fully recover from personal tragedy.

What is bereavement leave?

Bereavement leave is a period of time employees have off work, following the loss of a person close to them.

When an employee suffers the loss of a loved one, such as the passing of a family member, employers need to balance the requirements of being a supportive employer and continuing to manage business demand.

So, how long is bereavement leave? There is little in law regarding what employers should and shouldn’t offer, so employers are required to use their discretion. Every individual will deal with bereavement differently and will experience the stages of grief in a unique way. Some may even feel angry or their mental health may be impacted, so it’s important to have a flexible approach depending on the individual circumstances, whilst also ensuring fairness amongst employees. Having a bereavement policy in place is beneficial to support managers dealing with these situations.

With July 3rd marking National Bereaved Parents’ Day, we take a look at the ways in which business leaders can best approach this.

Whilst the vast majority of employers would naturally want to be a shining example of compassion and empathy toward all staff, it can be difficult to navigate a distressing period and to know where the law stands in terms of allowing leave.

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Types of Statutory Bereavement Leave

Parental Bereavement Leave – ‘Jack’s Law’ – allows all employees the right to 2 weeks off work if their child dies under the age of 18 or is stillborn after 24 weeks of pregnancy. This includes abortions in limited circumstances such as if the birth parent is at risk or if the baby is to be born with a severe disability. The employee will also receive pay for this time off if they qualify. In addition, if the mother has a stillborn child after 24 weeks of pregnancy, they can have up to 52 weeks of maternity leave and pay. The father is also able to take up to 2 weeks of paternity leave and pay. However, due to the sensitivity of the situation, it’s a good idea for the employer to refer to the leave as something else.

If an employee suffers the death of a dependent, they are entitled to time off. A dependent can be a partner, wife, husband, parent, someone who lived in the same household or someone who relies on them for care. The amount of time is not stipulated under legislation, nor is there a legal right for them to receive pay.

Much to the surprise of many business leaders, the current legal framework in the UK only requires bereavement leave to be granted in the case of a child under the age of 18. If an employee suffers the loss of someone besides a child under the age of 18 or a dependent, then there is no legal right to any time off or pay.

What this tells us is that the picture is, at best, confusing, and at worst, incredibly lacking in compassion when you consider how much someone’s ability to function might be impaired by their feelings of grief.

Research by Sue Ryder recently revealed that some 7.9 million people in the UK experienced the death of a loved one in the 2019-2020 period, and they suggest workplace grief costs the UK economy some £23 billion a year.

Bereavement Leave and Supporting Your Team

As an employer, here are some of the top considerations you might want to reflect upon in the wake of this unusually challenging period:

  • Look at your current contracts and consider whether, in addition to the nationally set obligation, you might want to propose a period of grief-associated leave.
  • Explore options for engaging a grief counselling/referral service, to whom you might helpfully refer employees if they should need it.
  • Be sure to grant equal amounts of support in the face of grief to employees ‘working from home’ as those you see physically in the office.
  • Avoid communicating to your workforce the details of a staff member’s tragedy – unless you have discussed this with them or they have requested you to do so.
  • Don’t assume you know best for your member of staff. For some, it is quite possible they will regard it as helpful to have work as a practical focus during a challenging time.
  • Continually remind your staff of the opportunity to confidentially discuss matters of personal significance to your HR Partner, or well-being service.
  • Act appropriately and respectfully in any communication you maintain with your employee while they are out of the office due to grief.
  • Respect the wishes of your staff member in respect of any funeral attendance or condolences gesture.
  • Consider whether a close colleague might act as a close ‘buddy’ to the staff member, helping them feel particularly supported during a return to work.

If you would like help with revising contracts or expressing your compassionate culture within your business, don’t hesitate to get in touch with MAD-HR today.